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Throw an affordable, last-minute July 4th party

If you're just starting to plan your party on the 2nd, everything needs to be easy to pick-up at the last minute. Don't fret — Elizabeth Mayhew shares quick and easy tips to deck out your party table with items you can find at the grocery store or big retail chains like Target, Wal-Mart or Joanns:

The Country Table
Strike the Stars and Stripes:

In other words, don't buy the special 4th of July plates and cups. Many times these are priced a little higher and if you're just starting to plan your party on July 2nd, already picked over. Instead, mix and match with solid red, white and blue plates. It's just as festive and you can use the leftover plates and cups at other times of the year.It's Hip to be Square (or scalloped): Paper products have come a long way in the last few years, so you don't have to go to a specialty store to find something like a square paper plate, which is a little more unexpected. Try mixing colors and shapes makes your table more visually interesting than a matched set. On the first table, consider starting with round blue scalloped placemats and topped them with square white plates, then added a small round red dessert plate as the final layer. Red cutlery rounds out the mix.

Outlaw Paper Napkins: Use bandanas as napkins. At around $1 each, they add a nice touch to the table.

Serve Up a Centerpiece: One way to save some money is to make your centerpiece something that you're serving. On the first table, you can place blueberries, strawberries and raspberries in glass cylinders. The all-edible centerpiece picks up the patriotic party colors and also serve as the dessert. And who doesn't love a little Reddi-Whip on their fruit? As an inexpensive upgrade, cover these cans in red construction paper to hide the labels. An alternate idea: Display blue corn chips and red salsa in glass cylinders or bowls as an appetizer.

The Sophisticated Table
Toss the Tablecloth: Instead of worrying about getting ketchup and mustard stains out of your tablecloth, cover your table with white butcher paper or brown craft paper. It gives you a nice, clean canvas and makes clean up easy. Kids can even draw (or spill) on it with no problem. It's also less expensive than prepackaged paper tablecloths, which run around $12 each vs. about $10 for a large roll of butcher paper you can use again and again. You can also tie the paper down with red and white butcher's twine, but you could use grosgrain ribbon or any type of string — especially nice to do if it's a windy day.

Dish out Napkins: Why not give your guests something a little heartier than a paper napkin to wipe that barbecue sauce on? Big retail chains sell sets of dishcloths that come in like colors and patterns for a reasonable price.  Instead, try dividing these sets and using them as napkins. For this table, place blue and white striped dishtowels on top of red paper plates.

Double-Duty Centerpiece: Let your water do double-duty by keeping your guests hydrated but also serving as a centerpiece. Buy water that comes in the cobalt blue bottles and decant the water in to pitchers. Add blueberries, strawberries or raspberries to the pitchers for color and fruity flavor, then display on the table. Use the empty bottles as vases for red gerber daisies or another festive flower.

The Fun TableThe More the Merrier: The simplest grocery store item can be your centerpiece when you repeat the theme throughout the table. On this table, take Jones Soda bottles in bright red, white, and blue, then snaked them down the center of the table for a simple but visual centerpiece. Add a bucket filled with ice and cold soda bottles at the end of the table.Serve yourself:

At the top of the table, add bottle openers, which generally go for about $1.50 each. They fit into the theme and can also be a party favor for your guests.Go to the Garden: Make use of inexpensive cork trivets from the garden department. Place round cork trivets on top of red square placemats, then used a thumbtack (in blue or red) to hold a place card.Pop Goes the Party: Don't let those thumbtacks go to waste. Hang balloons filled with glitter or confetti from your gazebo, from branches ... whatever works for your set-up. When dinner is over, use the pushpin that's in the cork place mat to pop the balloons and confetti will fall like fireworks.

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